The Mermaid

English Folk Song

Traditional, with additional verses by Bounding Main

It was Friday morn when we set sail,
And we were not far from the land
When our Captain he spied a mermaid so fair
With a comb and a glass in her hand.

And the ocean waves do roll
And the stormy winds do blow
And we poor sa-li-ors go skippin’ at the top
While the landlubbers lie down below!

Then up spoke the captain of our gallant ship
And a fine old man was he!
“This fishy mermaid has warned us of our doom;
We shall sink to the bottom of the sea!” (Chorus)

Then up spoke a laddie from our gallant ship
And he saw the mermaid smiling happily . . .
He said “I’ve never kissed a girl; I’ll give that one a whirl!”
And he leapt to the bottom of the sea. (Chorus)

I’ve been stuck on this ship for months and months and months
and I’m seasick, as seasick as can be
They kept sayin’ I’ll get my sea legs soon
but ’til then I’ll be heavin’ in the sea (Chorus)

Then up spoke the drunkard of our gallant ship
And an old besotted wretch was he!
He said “I once caught a mermaid THIS BIG . . .”

I stowed ‘way on this big ol’ ship,
Looking for adventure on the sea.
So far all I’ve found are rats and mice and fleas,
And now they’re the last thing that I’ll see! (Chorus)

Three times round spun our gallant ship,
And three times round spun she;
Three times round spun our gallant ship,
And she sank to the bottom of the sea! (Chorus)


image of album cover for Bounding Main Lost at Sea - click for more info about the album

Song Notes

The American Folklife Center of the U.S. Library of Congress indicates, “This English variant was very popular in the 1960s folk revival, due to its publication in the influential 1959 book The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. The text and tune in that book, selected and edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd, were based mostly on a version sung in 1906 by James Herridge or Herage (the collector and the census records spelled it differently), a railway plate-layer who was born in about 1840. Herridge’s version was first published in Folk Song Journal in 1907. To it, Vaughan Williams and Lloyd added verses found on broadside versions to come up with this text … “

The collated text give by Williams and Lloyd differs considerably from the version that Bounding Main learned from the American renaissance faire circuit.   Additionally, Bounding Main wrote several of their own verses to the tune that they learned.

Note that the Wikipedia article about this song (as of 4/18/2020) is filled with erroneous information suggesting that this was a foc’sle song and that it is thought of as a “shanty.”  The author offers, as his source, a study of the Child Ballads by David Atkinson, but Atkinson offers no documentation to his suggestion about the actual application of this song by sailors.  Indeed, the song is not found in Songs of American Sailormen by Joanna C. Colcord, Shanties from the Seven Seas by Stan Hugill, The Shanty Book by Richard Runciman Terry nor Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman by William Main Doerflinger.